Resist Unto Blood

Hebrews 12:4. What is the meaning of "You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin"? Is the goal of Christians to avoid sinning at all cost?

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Introduction

The gospel sounds very attractive especially for those who have embarked on a treadmill of religion with no hope of salvation in sight. They heard of Jesus' promise of water that satisfies forever, of rest for the weary, of peace that passes understanding, and how He died on the cross one time for all the sins of mankind, they thought there in this wonderful religion is their hope. But once they got into the fold, after an initial honeymoon of joy unspeakable, somehow they found themselves back on the treadmill. They're confused but couldn't quite put their fingers on what is going on. The messages they heard from pulpits for decades seemed different from what they heard when they were still in the dark. They used to hear of the forgiveness of sins, now they keep hearing stern warning of sins that they must "resist unto blood." It seemed to them the Christians hadn't solved their sin problem.

More than once during these years they’ve heard messages from Hebrews 12:1-4 which left them an impression that their troubles are far from over. Memories of that first love when they knelt at the cross are all but fading. Maybe God didn’t really forgive them at all. Though the number of times they heard sermons on this passage are few, they still served to magnify the giants in the promised land, to sow the seed of doubt and fear concerning their eternal destiny.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:2-4).

The sin that easily entangles

The underlined parts of these verses appear to confirm the common interpretation that we must make every effort to banish sins from our lives in order to run the race that is laid out before us. It makes sense, doesn’t it? It makes a lot of sense that a race runner must eliminate anything that can potentially affect his performance. Therefore in a Christian race, sin is a major obstacle that must be dealt with in every aspect.

But what is the sin that easily entangles? Are they the sins that people commonly fall into, or some special sin—singular? We must go back to the beginning of this Hebrews letter where the author established the framework for us to determine what this sin really is.

Earlier in chapter 2, the author warns believer of the risk of drifting away. This gives us a clue as to what we should look for in determining what we might be drifting away from, or toward. There are more signposts which all point to the main truth that helps us clarify what the problem really is, and of course they also help us define what it is not, but perhaps addressing just these two main topics, the sin that easily entangles, and the drifting away is sufficient for the purpose of this article. Now let us consider next the concept of drifting away.

The danger of drifting away

1Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

Most Christians believe that they have drifted away when work pressure, family needs, health issues, or whatever personal reasons cause them to miss church, to be unavailable for church ministries, or their falling into certain lifestyle causes much pain to themselves and others, to the point they wonder if they’re saved at all. They feel they might drift away if they don’t join every prayer meeting, if they don’t drop a substantial amount in the offering plate when a missionary came fundraising at their church, and myriad other things that they deem important to keep them on the straight and narrow.

But whatever this drifting away is, it must not be one of those things mentioned above, because there is a tone of utmost urgency in verse 3: how will we escape? If it is, no Christian will escape because we all will fall into one of these things that rightly or wrongly creates a fear of falling away in our hearts.

God’s method of salvation cannot be something that is based on a shifting foundation. If He gives man one way to be saved, then their loss of salvation must be based on the failure to adhere to that one way. But the message we get from most Christian sources seems much more complicated than that. According to these sources, though there is one way to be saved, there are thousands of ways one can drift away to our ultimate destruction.

We will resume at a point where we determine what we might drift away from, or toward. Without a clear identification of what it is, a whole ecosystem of how-to’s may evolve with lots of bandwidth wasted without producing any real help.

The shedding of blood

Our natural tendency upon reading this part of the passage: “You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin” is to think immediately of our battle against the lust of the flesh. But what does Hebrews say about bloodshed, its meaning and its purpose?

In chapter 9, after the writer of Hebrews describes the role of the priest who had to enter into the most holy place to offer the blood of bulls and goats for the peoples’ sins, he went on to compare such blood to the supremacy of the blood of Christ. The inferior blood of bulls and goats only provided ritual, or ceremonial, purity, but the blood of Christ can break down the barrier between the holy of holies and the profane world of fallen flesh to give man access to God. This it does by purifying their consciences.

13For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:13-14).

What was the role of blood in this context be it of animals or of the Son of God? It is to give people the forgiveness they needed in their relationship with God, temporarily by one and eternally by the other. The blood of either one is for the purpose of forgiveness.

Therefore “You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin” is not about struggling against sinful temptation, but about how you can pay for the sins that you have and will have committed. All men sin, the problem is how they can pay for them. In the Old Covenant, it was the bulls and goats that paid for them ceremonially, while in the New Covenant Christ paid for them now and forevermore. That is how He resists sin. Don’t you see Christ cannot be tempted because not only does He not have a sin nature, He is Almighty God. His purpose in shedding His own blood is entirely different from what contemporary pulpits try to apply to the controlling of the flesh. Additionally, we should have learned this already from the reason why the animals had to shed their blood: not for fighting against sinful temptations, but for the forgiveness of men’s sins.

I think from this point on we can eliminate the shedding of blood from the equation. But the article cannot end here though its title is “Resist Unto Blood.” The application that is similarly derived from the concepts of “drifting away” and “the sin that easily entangles” still needs further treatment because their implication is profound.

Back to “The Sin”

Let us go back to the question: What is the sin that easily entangles? The question is not about the sins (plural), but about the sin (singular), that easily entangles. It’s one specific sin.

Once upon a time when it is written in John 16:8 that Jesus describes the role of the Holy Spirit when he comes:

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin … (John 16:8)

How is the world wrong about sin? Well the world has been thinking that sin has to do with something bad that men do, or something good that they fail to do, how can they be wrong? Jesus continued:

… in regard to sin, because they do not believe in Me (John 16:8).

Though someone may manage to never sin as everyone else did, he is in sin, because he came from a sinful lineage, but the moment he believed in Jesus, he’s delivered from sin.

Then years after Jesus had gone back to heaven leaving in man’s hand the ministry of reconciliation, God gave the Hebrews writer the task of reminding man once again the meaning of sin:

18And to whom did He swear that they would never enter His rest? Was it not to those who disobeyed? 19So we see that it was because of their unbelief that they were unable to enter (Hebrews 3:18-19).

God’s rest is the place where sins are forgiven, where man with unveiled faces can be in God’s presense without shame, where man can relate to God as Abba, Father. The Hebrews writer reminded his audience of the time when God’s people arrived at the Jordan river, all they needed to do were to obey God’s command to cross the Jordan to enter the promised land. Instead of believing God’s promise to bring them to the promised land, instead of listening to Joshua and Caleb, they chose to listen to the ten other spies who reported giants in the land. This was their disobedience, this was their unbelief that prompted God’s anger when He swore that “they would never enter His rest.”

Again here the Hebrews writer reaffirmed what Jesus said concerning sin: UNBELIEF.

That is the sin that easily entangles. That is the sin that causes so many folks to fall short of believing in Jesus’ promise of salvation to those who believe in Him. This is the sin that crops up from ministries that are supposed to reconcile men to God but instead caused them to further drift from God, when they proved themselves wrong concerning sin by focusing all their energy in fighting a wrong battle, when they focus on the sins (plural) instead of helping folks to firmly believe in the one that God had sent (John 6:29).

The drift away …

Let us revisit Hebrews 2:1 which says: “Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” What had they heard? What but the simple truth that the ultimate sin is the sin of unbelief? Didn’t they hear that those who have the Son have eternal life (1 John 5:2)? Didn’t they remember what happened to those who didn’t cross the Jordan to enter the promise land because of their unbelief? Didn’t they remember what Jesus said when He still walked among them saying the real sin is the sin of not believing in Him (John 16:8)?

Don’t drift away from that simple but everlasting truth: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Don’t add anything to it, and don’t take anything away from it.

Resist unto blood

Let us revisit the common assumption that the sins that we must resist unto blood are those unbecoming of expected Christian behaviors, but as shown in The shedding of blood section above, it is not about the battle against the flesh, but about the forgiveness of sins. Let quote again the key verse in its immediate context here:

3Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:2-4).

Verse 3 above shows us the struggle against sin that Jesus endured is from sinners, and we are therefore encouraged to not grow weary when we likewise may endure opposition when we serve as ambassadors for Christ. Though Jesus endured to the point of shedding his blood, the Hebrews author reminds his reader that they have not yet had to shed their own blood. But whether they will ever have to shed blood, the struggle in this context is not with their own flesh, but with something or someone external to them. Therefore, in the context of Hebrews 12:4, the struggle is against the sin of others, not ours. So the misinterpretation and misapplication of this verse puts the Christians in a cycle of frustration without escape as they look to fight an enemy that had already been rendered powerless but still formidable as it still looms large in their unbelieving heart. In this sense, this is an imaginary enemy that cannot be overcome, like the giants in the promised land through the eyes of the unbelieving ten spies.

In Conclusion

The shedding of blood has nothing to do with battling against the flesh, but it has to do with the forgiveness of sin that only Jesus can provide. The shedding of blood prescribed by our God can only come through the unblemished bulls or goats of the Old Covenant to a limitted extent, and ultimately, and exclusively only through the Son of God in the New Covenant to grant life giving righteousness to those that believe. Other than these, there is no other shedding of blood in God’s salvation plan.

The sin that easily entangles is the sin of unbelief, of not putting your full trust of your salvation in Christ’s finished work on the cross.

And in Jesus’ struggle against the sin of the unbelieving world, he did it unto the shedding of his own blood. While some of us ambassadors for Christ may have to shed blood due to oppositions, the shedding of our blood is neither required nor effective in granting forgiveness to anyone.

The struggle against personal sins had already been overcome by Jesus when he died on the cross. And we, too, overcame the effect of sin through faith. Our struggle is no longer against the flesh (Ephesians 6:12), but against principalities that put doubt to the efficacy of Christ. We still sin, but we’re no longer obsessed with the issue of sin.

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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Comments

Ama Freda

This was so helpful for me. Thank you. As I am struggling with spiritual warfare now, this blog is an encouragement to me.

Nghi Nguyen

Hello Ama,

I’m glad it’s helpful to you. Most Christians believe that spiritual warfare has to do with sins or sickness or various maladies. Though there is some truth to that, the true spiritual warfare is hidden in our insecurity of our salvation. We believe with a fleeting thought in John 3:16, but deep inside we doubt very much that God loves us, maybe though He doesn’t hate us, He’s very disappointed in us because there are still sins in our lives. Once we lay claim to the promise of Romans 8:1 that there is now no longer any condemnation to us who are in Christ Jesus, and live by it, eat it, drink it, go to sleep with it, lean on Jesus’ heart with it, we’d have won the battle and be on the path to be made whole.

Keep fixing your eyes on Jesus.

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